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FOOTBALL Wolves wary of Rovers Cup spur.

Wolverhampton Wanderers are ready to meet the full force of Tranmere Rovers' turbo-charged emergence from the Merseyside shadows tonight.

Eclipsed by the giants of Liverpool and Everton throughout their history, the men from Prenton Park have thrust themselves into the spotlight so dramatically that their fans are still blinded by the glare.

Already through to their first major Wembley final - they meet Leicester City for possession of the Worthington Cup a week on Sunday - John Aldridge takes his Rovers side to Molineux in advance of their FA Cup quarter-final with Newcastle United this weekend.

The incentive for Rovers tonight is to complete a season's double over Wolves, three months after beating them 1-0 on Merseyside. The spur for Colin Lee's men is revenge and the Wolves manager is not being deceived into thinking that Tranmere will have their minds on Newcastle, Leicester, or Wembley.

Wolves need the points after slipping out of the First Division's top six with their 2-0 defeat at Charlton Athletic last Saturday. Rovers need them to climb closer to mid-table respectability.

"We're expecting a tough game," Lee said. "They can't afford to let up just because they've got a big Cup game against Newcastle on Sunday. The players will be wanting to make sure they keep their places."

Lee has no doubt about the prime source of Tranmere's threat to Wolves this evening. Rovers have one of English football's most dangerous long-throw merchants in Dave Challinor, who can launch a ball into the six-yard box with consummate ease.

Subtlety is not part of Tranmere's repertoire, yet Lee is not one to condemn their directness or the physical approach other teams have condemned.

"They play to their strengths and you can't knock them for that," the Wolves manager said. "Tranmere have done remarkably well playing the way they do and they have a tremendous team spirit.

"They 're competitive all over the park and I can only admire that in a team. We have to make sure we at least match their commitment."

Matching Tranmere up front will be Lee's concern, for Wolves are without Michael Branch tonight and they will miss his pace. Added to that, Andy Sinton will need a fitness test on the knee ligament injury which forced his early retirement at Charlton.

Branch came off late in the second half at the Valley with a pulled hamstring, which Lee is not prepared to risk tonight. "I could play Michael, but that could put him out for the rest of the season and I can't take that sort of gamble," he said.

"We'll leave a decision on Andy until the last possible moment, hoping for the best. To have him and Michael on the sidelines would take a big chunk out of the team."

Lee is only too aware of the urgency of tonight's game, having lost ground in the play-off race. "With only 15 games left, we're running out of time," he admitted. "These are three big points at stake."

Wolves, meanwhile, have sent 28-year-old Welsh international defender Adrian Williams back to his old club Reading on loan for the rest of the season.

Signed for pounds 750,000 just under four years ago, the 6ft 2in centre-half had already been told there will be no new contract for him at Molineux. "Adrian needs first-team football, so hopefully this loan move will put him back in the shop window," Lee explained.

Wolves have also circulated the name of Ryan Green to potential borrowers in the lower divisions, with Lee revealing yesterday that the 19-year-old full-back had withdrawn his transfer request.

Goalkeeper Andy Petterson, signed on loan from Portsmouth, makes his bow in the reserves against Birmingham City at Keys Park, Hednesford tomorrow night.
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Author:Ward, Michael
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 16, 2000
Words:620
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